The nominations for the 32nd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards ( HK’s Oscars) were just announced 10 days ago on February 6th. Up for Best Director and Best Film are Soi Cheang for his action thriller Motorway.
Released back in July, I just got the DVD recently. I wouldn’t exactly call it a full on action thriller because most of the action is restricted to automobile chases rather than explosions and gunfire. That means we are long on screaming tires, burnt rubber left on the streets, and dashboard gauges edging into the red zones, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting.
We start with two cops – basically they’re uniformed traffic cops with a bit more than just that going for them. Of course one is a veteran cop and one is a hot shot younger cop. Sort of like Robert Duvall and Sean Penn in Colors. While these guys are watching for speeders they are often called in by the Major Crimes Unit to assist with roadblocks, chases, and surveillance. In fact they are called The Invisible Squad because they drive unmarked cars. While Shawn Yue won’t remind you of Ryan Gosling in Drive in general, meaning as an actor or a character, but when he gets behind the wheel – he will. One other plus is that we won’t see a smarter-than-you-ever-thought-possible detective throughout the entire film. On the other hand, this being about cops, we do get the impatient bosses otherwise known as captains.
Anthony Wong and the aforementioned Shawn Yue are the leads. Of course, Wong plays the nearing retirement Officer Lo. He’s been on the force a long time and he and his wife, played by Michelle Ye, are looking forward to his retirement so they can head out to the beach in Langkawi in Malaysia, or take in some art at The Louvre in Paris. He’s seen it all, done it all, and is at the emotional core of the film. He’d be happy to teach his young partner the ropes – but only if he’s asked. But Yue’s Cheung goes in for silent brooding rather than the acquisition of knowledge.
Yue plays Cheung as a hot-headed younger cop who has trouble following orders, is basically uncoachable, and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.
Basically what begins as a speeding violation turns into a cat and mouse bit of surveillance, which leads to a second, third, and 4th car chase. You see, the bad guy, whom we met in the first chase (that’s him fleeing in the back car above – allows himself to be busted in the second chase , however it didn’t happen easily. There’s a reason for this but I won’t tell you why – however it does lead to some intense action and does set up the second half of the film.
The film is a Milky Way Production and Milky Way means Johnnie To, the reigning king of all Hong Kong film-makers. When To is involved, and it isn’t a romantic comedy, then it will surely include fast cars, cops, crooks, and edge of your seat excitement. Motorway easily slides into that niche and does an excellent job of delivering the Milky Way product.
I would have hoped for a bit more of day time chases but I read that much of the film was done guerrilla- style meaning without permits for street scenes. But with or without permits, the driving and speed are very well done, very realistic, and extremely thrilling.
There’s nothing new to the story – old cop, young cop – so you know how that will turn out. A jewel heist, lots of high speed chases, and there’s even some women involved – although I must say they’re mostly peripheral. Barbie Hsu has a thankless role as a woman that Cheung is interested in. She’s not only a hustler on a pool table, she’s also a surgeon. But really, she’s just the eye candy. Michelle Ye is the older cop’s wife, and there’s nothing new about her role as written either, but you will like how she performs in her limited screen time.
The third woman is also not very surprising. This would be Madam, played by Johnnie To regular Josie Ho. She’s not a madam in a Wanchai pleasure house, actually she is the senior most cop we meet in the film.
As I said up top, this film has been nominated for Best Film and Best Director, and despite the fact that the story doesn’t offer anything new, the film is well made, exciting and is pleasing. I’ll rate it at three point seven five and recommend the film for those of you who love films filled with testosterone, fast cars, beautiful women, and automobile engines cranking out nearly 8,000 rpms.
For a nice taste of the movie, have a look at the trailer: